Tuesday, May 22, 2012

So Daddy Is the Big Baddie



Parents: it is generally safe to assert that everyone has them. They may be alive or dead, maybe a combination of the two. In video games, while they may not be explicitly mentioned, the characters also have parents or parent like figures. In role-playing games (rpg's), which for those who do not know rpg's are story heavy games, there are three main stereotypical elements that deal with parents: both parents are dead, one parent is alive but is killed in the progress of the game, or the father is antagonistic towards the character. Occasionally the mother will be the villain but it is significantly less common than the re-occurring evil father stereotype. I would argue that the rpg genre is a Freudian playground of material and I want to focus mainly on antagonistic relationships between fathers and characters and how defeating or surpassing the father figure is often the an important event that takes place within the narrative of many rpg games.  Spoilers will abound in this article for the sake of coherency so be warned. The two game I plan to focus on are Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy X.
Since this article will be focusing a bit on the Oedipus Complex, I want to make sure that everyone has at least a grasp of this psychoanalytical theory. Basically it refers to the relationship between the parents and the children and how the child competes with the opposite sex parent because

" they now realize, for example, that their parents may choose each other over them. The children feel a whole gamut of emotions in response to this affront: from passionate love to equally passionate hate; from jealous, angry, and resentful to frightened, abandoned, and needy. They may scheme to interfere with the exclusive relationship that they now see between their parents, hoping to recreate the sense of being the most important person in the parent’s life, and/or fight for one or the other's attention in the hope of winning them over." (Levy-Warren 4)

However, in video games where a mother character is not present, the a male child(not necessarily a child in age but in relation) may still compete with his father to either prove their worth, save the world, or just because the character hate his father. The commonality of this competition, if you will, between father and son, mother and daughter, or father/mother and son/daughter, may be attributed to the very real relationships between children and parents. Children and parents do not always see eye to eye on various issues, whether it be curfews, food choices, friends, or many others, and often tension is high. While this is not entirely related to the Oedipal complexes, it had a ring of familiarity to it that makes incorporating parent/child strife in video games a relatable element that developers of rpg's incorporate. The more identifiable the player is with the characters, the more likely the game will succeed if it relies heavily on narrative aspects which rpg's do. When I say narrative I refer to the first and sixth definitions Juul mentions in his chapter over fiction within games, "1. Narrative as the presentation of a number of events. 6. Narrative as the way we make sense of the world" (157). It is therefor the sequence of events that shapes how the characters and the players perceive the world and as a result it determines how they react to it.While yes, the role of literary criticism applied to video games is apparently controversial, Nielson makes a good point "There are characters with individual motivations and personal agendas, a mystery to be solved, a whole city to be explored, and histories to uncover that have shaped your character" (170). The relationships between the characters and their father's can be a major influence on a character's development and thus impact the overall story within the game and with rpg's the story just as much as the game play can make or break the game.

First I would like to address Final Fantasy VII and Sephiroth's obsession with his mother (who is and is not his mother) and his hatred for his father. Sephiroth is a hero turned villain when he discovers the experiments that where done on him and believes himself to be a monster and the last of a race that died out a 1000 years ago (More stereotypical elements of rpg's: 1000 year old extinct race and the hero turned villain motif). Early on in the game you are treated to watching Sephiroth "free" his mother from a coorporation. Who he claims as his mother happens to be a head that was stored in a tube. Throughout the game he liberates a couple more pieces of his mother and as fate would have it, he is trying to destroy the world because that is what his mother would have wanted. His father is a crazy scientist named Hojo and it was he who experimented on his son when he was in his real mother's womb (who dies during childbirth) and puts Jenova DNA (the creepy head he carries around) into him while he is gestating thus giving him superhuman strength. He has a deep hatred for Hojo which turns into a hatred for all life in general. After finding out that the Jenova DNA he was fused with comes from a being that tried to destroy the world he embraces his mother's attempt as his life goal and summons a big meteor to smash all life from the world which would include his father Hojo. How he plans to gain his mother's approval since his mother is a head is a bit beyond understanding but it is clear he desires to please his mother at the cost of his father's and all of life's lives. Sephiroth would be a good example of an unsuccessful resolution of the Oedipus complex, since he clearly turns psychopathic and roams around with his mother's head. He never gets to confront Hojo directly and his eerie devotion to his  mother and desire to gain her favor fails thanks to a dead girl who he killed at the end of the first disc.

Pictured: Dead girl who saves the world and Sephiroth's signature sword. Infer what you will. 

Now that I've given a brief overview of Sephiroth and his origin, lets talk about the fear of castration and why Sephiroth has it. First off, castration anxiety is "a fear of both literal and figurative emasculation...and that his father will also castrate him as a punishment for desiring his mother" (Cherry). Hojo has experimented on Sephiroth since his conception, so a literal castration may be a genuine threat for Sephiroth. In the various games that tie into Final Fantasy 7 and the lore that is found in the game it is revealed that Hojo refuses to answer any questions pertaining to Sephiroth's mother and Sephiroth makes it clear that he has no feelings of familial attachment to Hojo. Hojo, being a typical mad scientist, is always experimenting and thus Sephiroth is more of a super-soldier test subject and less of a son. Hojo through his testing and refusal to give Sephiroth information regarding his mother encourages Sephiroth's castration anxiety. As a result he does not develop into a healthy, stable adult which leads to his descent into insanity when he finds out the truth of his creation. He completely disregards his father, unable to relate to him and because of this he does not develop a super ego to control his impulses and thus blossoms his one minded devotion to carrying out his mother's unfinished task to destroy the world.  

The relationship between Tidus and Jecht in Final Fantasy X is another example where the Oedipus complex plays an important role in the narrative of the story. In the very beginning of the game Tidus is depicted as being stuck in the shadow of his father, Jecht. Like his father, Tidus is a Blitzball player (an underwater combination of soccer and football) and the fans and sports commentators are constantly comparing the two, even speculating if Tidus can pull off his father's signature move that no one else can perform. His father disappeared so even though Tidus does eventually manage to successfully execute the move, he remains in his father's shadow and is unable to prove to his father his worth. To complicate matter, when his father disappears his mother is clearly distraught but the young Tidus refuses to acknowledge the love between Jecht and his mother and claims that he hope his father never comes back because he hates him. He wants to have his mother all to himself because his mother does not make him feel useless and cause him to cry. His mother eventually dies and he becomes even more embittered towards his father because his absence is what essentially killed his mother. Tidus does not know that his father was transported to a different world and that he can not return. When Tidus also gets transported to that same world, he is still stuck in the shadow of his Father who has managed to become the hero by helping defeat a giant monster called Sin that can literally destroy entire cities. It is revealed later in the game that in order to defeat Sin, Jecht is turned into a giant monster himself, destroying his humanity, and becomes the next Sin who will show up in again in a few years. Thanks to this transformation Tidus gets to go and fight Sin when it appears and eventually confronts his Jecht who is in the center of Sin. When Jecht is dying/disappearing, he acknowledges his son's growth and sort of tells him he is proud of him and that his son can help end the cycle of Sin. Tidus, while he surpasses his father but defeating him, comes to terms with their rocky relationship and hates with love instead of hating with hate. (Very cheesy and complimented with whine, courtesy of Tidus). As one can see so far there is constant rivalry between fathers and sons. Final Fantasy X has more of the competition for the love of the mother with that aggression transferring into other areas such as sports and adventuring.
Dad? Good luck escaping this father's shadow. 

  To resolve the Oedipal Complex and "develop into a successful adult with a healthy identity, the child must identify with the same-sex parent in order to resolve the conflict. Freud suggested that while the primal id wants to eliminate the father, the more realistic ego knows that the father is much stronger" (Cherry). By confronting his father who used to emasculate him by constantly calling him a cry-baby even if it was done jokingly, Tidus is able to secure an apology from his father and as a result begin to empathize with the man instead of hating him. He comes to understand his father's attempt to "toughen him up" and give him the strength to endure and possibly leave the shadow Jecht casts on Tidus. He  no longer fears his father but respects him.
 These are just a couple of examples of the many games within the rpg genre that have conflicts between the parents and children and often incorporate Oedipus Complex elements into the narrative. Some other well-known rpg's that have similar stories are Suikoden, The Legend of Dragoon, Star Ocean Till the End of Time, Rogue Galaxy, Infinite Undiscovery Pokemon Ruby, Sapphire and Emerald, Fallout 3, Bioshock, Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep (more father figure vs pupil), and Red Dead Redemption (occurs mostly at the end of the game). These rpg's, while having varying levels of familial strife, all make use of a father figure as someone the character is trying to compete with even if the role the father plays is not exactly antagonistic.

Here is a fun link with a flow chart for every single rpg ever made. 

Works Cited
Cherry, Kendra. "What is an Oedipal Complex." 2012. http://psychology.about.com/od/oindex/g/def _oedipuscomp.htm. Web. 19 May 2012. 

Juul, Jesper. "half-real: Video Games between Real Rules and Fictional Worlds. 1st. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2011. Print.

Levy-Warren, Marsha H. Wherefore The Oedipus Complex In Adolescence? Its Relevance,       Evolution, And Appearance In Treatment. Studies In Gender & Sexuality 9.4 (2008):  328-348. Academic Search Complete. Web. 20 May 2012.

Nielson, Simon Egenfeldt, Jonas Smith, Susana Pajares Tosca. Understanding Video Games: The 
Essential Introduction. New York: Routledge, 2008. Print.



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